Donald Trump spoke at a rally for Senator Luther Strange in Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday, addressing a raucous crowd, urging them to support the incumbent for his electability and “loyalty.”
Strange is trailing popular former Judge Roy Moore in the polls and appears to have an uphill battle to win the GOP primary runoff on Tuesday to represent the party in the December special election to replace Jeff Sessions, who resigned from the Senate to become Trump’s attorney general.
With the endorsement, Trump took what he admitted was a risk — pumping his own political capital into an effort to carry Strange to victory, even though a Moore win could put a dent in Trump’s influence.
Trump said he “might’ve made a mistake, I’ll be honest,” by wading into the race.
But, he said, “Luther’s going to win easily and Roy is going to have a hard time winning” a December general election against Democrat Doug Jones.
Trump’s comments about electability came as he acknowledged that Senate Republicans can’t spare a single vote. He pointed to Sen. John McCain’s announcement Friday that he opposes the latest GOP health care bill — effectively ending the party’s chances for now at repealing Obamacare.
His decision to visit Alabama and campaign for Strange, Trump said, was all about loyalty.
The President bluntly told the crowd that when he was handed a list of 10 senators he needed to lobby to support his health care effort, some insisted on dinners and meetings with their families before Trump could win them over.
But when he called Strange, the new senator appointed in February to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said, in Trump’s retelling: “Sir, don’t even waste your time talking anymore. You have a lot of business to do. You have my vote.”
Trump said he told first lady Melania Trump about the call. “I went home and told my wife, that’s the coolest thing that’s happened to me in six months.”
Trump also defended Strange against Moore’s accusations that he is doing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bidding, saying that Strange has only known McConnell for months. The charges have stemmed from a pro-McConnell super PAC spending $9 million to boost Strange.
Trump and McConnell have butted heads as Republicans’ frustration has mounted over the party’s failure to repeal Obamacare and enact other Trump agenda items, with Trump publicly blasting the Senate leader on Twitter repeatedly in recent weeks.
The “electability” of either candidate is not really in question. Alabama is one of the most Republican states in the union and the small turnout one would expect in a special election heavily favors the GOP.
But Moore has proven to be something of a loose cannon. Trump was convinced to come to Alabama and boost Strange by the Senate GOP leadership and the RNC, who fear that if Moore slips up, a defeat in December would be devastating to the party’s chances in November 2018.
Trump’s remark that he may have made a mistake coming to Alabama reveals the conflict within him over his support for a candidate supported by his party adversary Mitch McConnell over Roy Moore, who has been enthusiastically embraced by his base. His natural inclination may very well be to support the former judge. HHUD Secretary Ben Carson broke with him to support Moore, and his former campaign manager, Steve Bannon, has gone all in for the challenger.
But when it comes to politics, Trump has shown himself to be a realist. He’s got to live with a Republican Senate — for the moment, anyway — and supporting Strange is about placating those senators whom he must rely on to pass his agenda.
But he probably won’t be unhappy if Moore wins.